By Bob Flynn
Register Sports Writer
The Colonels advanced to the semifinals of the OVC Tournament with an 84-69 win over Southeast Missouri Thursday at Municipal Auditorium.
Eric Stutz had a monster game to lead the Colonels, matching a career high with a double-double of 22 points and 10 rebounds.
The Colonels got off to a slow start but with just under four minutes to go in the first half they turned up the defensive pressure, which jump-started the offense.
Trailing 27-26, EKU outscored SEMO 12-5 during the final four minutes of the half to take a 39-31 lead at the intermission.
“We’ve talked all year about the last four minutes of the half being our time,” EKU coach Jeff Neubauer said. “And we were down one and had a timeout and we told our guys, ‘We own the last four minutes.’ And we did and went into the half with a lead. So, we really have had success there in the last four minutes of the half and a big part of it was our ‘D’”.
In the second half, the Colonels’ defense cranked it up even more, converting several Redhawk turnovers into easy points as they steadily increased their lead to as many as 19 points with eight minutes left in the game.
Neubauer credited the defense for the win.
“We talked a lot coming into this tournament that it is all about defense this time of year. And when you hold a team to 39 percent from the field and 13 percent from the arc you are doing your job,” Neubauer said. “On the other end it was all about attacking. We talked about attacking them and not only being a three-point shooting team and we did a good job of attacking the rim.”
The game was called closely all night and unlike the women’s game earlier in the day, this time it the Colonels who went to the foul line as they were repeatedly fouled on the drives.
EKU hit 37 out of 45 free throws in the game, while SEMO was 16-18 from the line.
The last time the Colonels played SEMO on the road, Stutz had his best game of his career.
On Thursday, Stutz matched that point total, but had an even better all around game. His play on the inside, SEMO Coach Dickey Nutt, said, really opened up the outside for the Colonel guards to drive to the basket, which they did all night.
“For Eric to play great tonight with 22 points, 10 rebounds, three assists is really an important effort at a really important time of the year,” Neubauer said.
Corey Walden had 12 points, Mike DiNunno finished with 10 points and Orlando Williams added 14 points and seven rebounds in his second game back from a knee injury that kept him out of action for a month.
Neubauer said he was more excited for Williams than he was for the team having him back.
“More importantly, just for Orlando personally to recover from an injury and just being back out there playing is fun to watch,” Neubauer said. “Does it help our team? Does it help our defense? Yeah, it does. But its more important to see a young man go down and feel the pain, rehab and get himself back out there. He teammates really appreciate his efforts to get back.”
The Colonels had a balanced scoring attack on the night. Tarius Johnson and Marcus Lewis had nine points each and Glenn Cosey had eight points and four rebounds.
The Colonels also out-rebounded the Redhawks 41-34.
EKU advanced to today’s semifinals to play Murray State at 9 p.m.
The Colonels had not won an OVC Tournament game since 2007, the last time the claimed the title.